Trying to sell a brand in an area with established loyalties to another manufacturer requires extra effort. That's why independent manufacturers rep Tom Barrett, who is trying to sell Toto toilets in an area traditionally committed to Kohler products, has taken his showroom on the road.Barrett works out of a 28-ft. trailer truck that has been converted into a mobile showroom with functioning plumbing fixtures, a stereo and fireplace. He created the showroom in late 1998 after starting his own company, Water Provisions, based in Green Bay, Wis., earlier that year.

Since that time he has been taking the showroom to local building shows and small wholesalers. On each sales call Barrett brings along people from at least one of the manufacturers he represents so they can answer questions.

Among the brands Barrett is showing in his mobile showroom are Toto, Price Pfister and Whirlaway. Since last March his sales territory has been expanded beyond Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to include Minnesota, North and South Dakota.

"Business was booming this past November and December," Barrett said. "I did more business from the showroom in those two months than for the rest of the year."

The cost of this endeavor has been higher than he had anticipated, but he expects payback within a year or two, Barrett said.

"In the winter when it was 20 degrees below zero, people had to be convinced to go out to the trailer," Barrett said. "They didn't want to leave the office. But I told them about the fireplace and promised them coffee. It was very comfortable inside the trailer. I had music playing to set the mood and ran manufacturers' promotional videos on the TV monitor."

Seeing the actual performance of Toto toilets was what initially convinced Barrett that the mobile showroom concept was a good idea.

"When I tested them, there was such a noticeable difference in flushing performance, I knew I could actually demonstrate it," Barrett said. "It has been a fun journey. My visit almost always results in a sale. Just about everyone is willing to try the Toto toilet in a project. Once they sample, from then on it means continued business. That is the exciting part."

The ability to demonstrate the products and the convenience of bringing the showroom to the customers have been key to Barrett's success, he said.

"It's really hard to sell out of catalogs and magazines," Barrett said. "By the time customers walk out of the trailer, they are sold. It takes a lot less effort to try to sell them again. One small wholesaler told me that in the first two months of 1999 he sold more toilets than he sold in all of 1998."

Now that the showroom has been in business for a while, Barrett has begun offering promotions. He had two promotions in 1999 in which he brought qualifying contractors and wholesalers to car races, such as the NASCAR ReMax series.

"For the year 2000 our promotions will involve race cars that will participate in three different circuits in different parts of Wisconsin, covering the entire state," Barrett said.